Starring: Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Ian Ogilvy, Stephanie Beacham
A newlywed couple, Catherine and Charles Fengriffen, can’t seem to escape a curse visited upon Charles’s bloodline thanks to the horrible actions of one of his debaucherous ancestors. Of course it is the innocent and impressionable Catherine who must suffer in her husband's stead and everything from phantom rape, hauntings, and diabolical pregnancy is visited upon her. Though Charles loves her, he steadfastly refuses to believe her claims, though everyone around them drops like flies. A knowledgeable, sympathetic doctor comes from the city to help Catherine with a difficult pregnancy and is the only one who seems to believe her, but can he get to the bottom of the Fengriffens’ supernatural problem before it's too late?
While Amicus primarily released anthology films, And Now the Screaming Starts was one of their few single narrative feature films. While most of these — such as The Deadly Bees, The Psychopath, and What Became of Jack and Jill? — have modern day settings, this title fits in with Amicus films like The Skull and I, Monster in the sense that it has the lush period setting monopolized by Hammer, but includes far seedier and more lurid subject matter. Essentially a curse has been visited upon the family because Henry Fengriffen (the dashingly smarmy Herbert Lom) takes it upon himself that it’s his right as lord of the manor to rape a servant’s wife on the couple’s wedding night. When the servant tries to defend his bride, he has a hand lopped off for his troubles. And of course there is something unpleasant in the the curse that says it will be visited upon a virgin Fengriffen bride; Charles’ mother was not, conveniently allowing his generation to side step the problem.
Certainly one of the most bombastic titles of British ‘70s horror, And Now the Screaming Starts is based on the novel Fengriffen by David Case. The plot retreads familiar enough group that it isn’t going to really surprise any horror devotees, but — as with many of the Amicus films — it goes out of its way to tick off a number of horror tropes and goes out with a surprisingly morbid ending, the type almost never used by Hammer. Between the sexual violence and the fact that Catherine is terrorized almost nonstop for 90 minutes, anyone expecting the restrained parlor room horror that turns some genre fans away from Hammer might be pleasantly surprised.
The cinematography and costumes are lovely, but the script is unfortunately lackluster, as is the case with many of these stand-alone Amicus plots. It's definitely worth seeing for fans of Peter Cushing, who plays the cultured city doctor who sort-of-kind-of-not-really saves the day (and nearly saves the film), or Stephanie Beacham, who is lovely as always as Catherine Fengriffen and far less annoying than she is Dracula A.D. 1972. The film was helmed by the great Roy Ward Baker, responsible for some of my favorite British horror of the ‘70s, and his direction is assured, making the most of a string of supernatural attacks that don’t quite deliver as much suspense as they should. Whether this flaw is due to their need to compete with Hammer or merely difficulty finding a solid writing team — American novelist Robert Bloch was generally responsible for the studio’s best scripts, but he popped in and out over the years — I can’t really say.